The shove sent him face first into the soldier's back. With his wrist and hands bound, he had no control over his limbs. The soldier stumbled forward and then backhanded him across the jaw. The one who shoved him laughed and hit the back of his head with the hilt of a knife. Pain exploded across his skull and for a moment he thought he was going to pass out.
“Enough,” the witch finder said. “He will face his judgment awake and alert. Tie him to the pole.”
The yard was surrounded by grey stone walls, the brightness of the sun doing little to chase away the darkness of the keep. Joseph squinted, his eyes tearing up as he tried to see his surroundings. He’d been locked in a cell for weeks. There was no light or warmth, only darkness and pain. The grime of dirt, sweat, blood, and tears, matted his tangled brown hair to his head, and slickened his clammy skin. Finger and toe nails were gone, leaving gaping wounds that ached from infection, and a wretched stench wafting from him with every step.
His eyes managed to adjust, and he saw soldiers on the walkway, their crossbows focused on the gallows below. Three women, bruised and broken, were standing perfectly still on rickety stools, the nooses around their necks pulled tight. None of them had committed the crimes they were accused of, not a single one.
Joseph was whipped around and his arms wrenched behind his back. Soldiers secured him to a pole, then stepped away to grab kindling and wood. The sight that greeted him sucked all the air from his lungs, and pain, worse than any inflicted on him, tore through his chest. Secured to another pole across the yard, Millie's gaze was fixed on him. Her red curls had been shorn, leaving her hair in spiky tufts. She was drawn and pale, with dark circles making the hollow pits of her emaciated frame dominate her face. His eyes focused on her flat belly and he had to swallow his tears. He’d heard her screaming during the birth a few days ago. It was the only reason she’d been allowed to live so long, and the only time the bishop intervened, for anyone.
A note had been thrown into his cell the previous evening, informing him his son was given the name, William Pinter Blake by his mother, and that William would be gotten to the Blakes. None of the soldiers could read or write so he wasn’t sure who’d written the note or if it was genuine, but it was all he had.
Uneasiness pervaded the yard, and it had nothing to do with the murders being committed. A few soldiers shifted, their gazes drifting upward. Joseph knew what had them so scared, and a part of him wanted to laugh at their cowardice. The moon was on its way to meet the sun, and within minutes they’d touch. If all went according to plan, he, Millie, and the others would be the last victims of the witch finder’s war.
Bible in hand, the witch finder stood before Millie, while soldiers stood ready with torches to light her pyre. “Millicent Browning Blake, you have been found guilty of cavorting with the devil, and using his illicit powers to murder innocents and bathe in their blood…”
Joseph didn’t listen to the rest, it was all lies. He’d tried desperately to get someone to listen, to save her. But his dead wife’s family wanted his land, and they wanted someone to blame. Accusing Millie of using witchcraft to murder his wife and children, gave them both. It didn’t matter that the illness, which swept through the area, had nothing to do with evil spirits. People had already begun to look at those on the peninsula with suspicion, and with so many sick and dying, the healers who'd failed them became the accused. And since the bishop wouldn’t denounce the accusations, they took hold.
Millie didn’t acknowledge the witch finder, she kept her gaze on him. Even after months of loneliness, darkness, and pain, her eyes still reflected the love and joy they’d filled those few days with. He’d planned on asking her to marry him, once the proper length of mourning had passed. If it weren’t for Mille he may have never recovered from the loss of his family. But his in-laws didn’t want another woman's children to get his land, and once they saw how easy it was to make her go away, they accused him of collusion. After all, he wasn’t their blood, he was an obstacle.
“Joseph Waldren Pinter,” the witch finder said. “You have been found guilty of colluding with witches and…"
The witch finder’s voice grew fainter as Joseph’s heartbeat got heavier. It vibrated throughout his body, even his fingers and toes thrummed. A shadow slowly crawled across the bare earth of the yard as the moon started embracing the sun. Heat suddenly roared through his veins, setting every inch of him on fire. Except the kindling hadn’t been lit. This was a fire of the spirit. Joseph locked gazes with Millie, and he felt her consciousness within him, and then he felt the other three. An immeasurable presence filled and connected them, at once expanding and contracting as it rewrote each of them. The deal had been made, and the very core of him was being altered. Emotions he had no words to describe inundated him, and tears streamed down his cheeks, the ancient power giving them all the briefest flash of their families, safe and secure from future persecution. Their son would grow up in the bosom of his family loved and cherished. Joseph and Millie gave their thanks, they all did.
He gasped, and felt Millie and the others do the same. The presence surged through them, the fire in their veins pulsing behind their eyes until they were glowing. As one, the five of them looked at the witch finder. “Your tyrannical reign is over,” the presence said, using their voices in unison. “The sentinel will stand as a symbol of your wretchedness, your wickedness, your charred, putrid soul.”
Many soldiers prayed, their hands flying through the sign of the cross, hoping it would shield them.
“The sanctuary is protected,” their voices boomed. “There will be no quarter, there will be no mercy.”
For the first time the witch finder looked afraid, and Joseph smiled. They all did. “Your fates have been sealed.” Their gazes swept through the yard, marking every man present. “Your devil awaits.”
“Finish it,” the witch finder spat. None of the soldiers moved and he yelled, “In the name of Christ our savior, send the witches to hell!”
The witch finder shoved a soldier towards Millie, and when she fixed her glowing eyes on him he dropped his torch and ran.
“Coward!” the witch finder screamed. He picked up the torch and threw it onto the wood at Millie’s feet. “Woman, daughter of Eve, you are the devil’s gateway, the harbinger of all evil on this earth-”
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light and light for darkness,” Millie intoned, her glowing eyes turning a bright blue.
“Do not quote the Bible to me harlot! Kick the stools!”
The last sliver of sun was swallowed by the moon and day became night, the torches and murderous fires the only light. The soldiers stared at the sky terrified and unmoving, not appearing to hear the witch finder at all. In a rage, he charged across the yard and kicked the stools. Joseph felt a tug, and then another, and another. Their souls touched his briefly and then they were gone.
“What are you?” one of the soldiers stammered.
“Do not converse with the devil!” the witch finder snapped.
“We are the sun and the moon, the light and dark eternal. We are your end.” They focused their gazes on the witch finder, and said, “Your name will die with you, and all your works will fade into oblivion.”
Suddenly the presence was gone, the message and warning given. Emptiness filled Joseph with grief, and he looked at Millie, wishing he could wrap his arms around her one more time. The witch finder snatched torches out of soldier’s hands and threw them onto the pyres. Joseph filled his mind with Millie, her touch, the smell of her hair and skin, and her smile. Taking solace in the memory of their short time together for as long as he could.
The heat intensified, scorching his lungs and setting his eyebrows alight. A scream built within him as the flames climbed up his body, the flesh blackening and oozing into the pyre. Joseph stared into Millie’s eyes, biting back the wails with everything he had. The horror and turmoil roiling through him a contrast to her tender serenity. Millie’s body was afire, yet all he saw in her eyes was love, and even more surprising, joy. Her heart pulsed deep within those blue pools, and a whisper brushed passed his ear. Come with me my heart.
He reached for her through the flames. Always and forever my love.
She encompassed him completely, and the pain of the pyre vanished. All the sorrow and loss fell away, the durable fire of their love unlocked and unrestrained. They rose higher, the unseen light of the sun shining through the dark, intertwining their souls and setting them ablaze. Bound together in the light and dark eternal, they soared.
© Copyright 2022 Lucinda Paige. All rights reserved.
Book / Erotica
Book / Erotica
Book / Erotica